“How many slides can I have in my PowerPoint presentation?”

This is one question I get a lot as an educational developer, with a quick follow-up one about what’s the best way to put slides together.

Soon after it was first released in 1987, PowerPoint became both a boon and bane for teaching. (There are other software programs; PowerPoint just has well over 90% of the market). Computer program presentation software is certainly way more convenient than its predecessor overhead projector (and the accompanying slippery stack of slides), but it’s perpetuated some of the previous challenges with ill-conceived overhead transparencies while creating its own new issues.

Like how many slides is too many?

The standard advice is the 10/20/30 rule: 10 slides for a 20-minute presentation with 30-point font. This avoids the too-much issue: too many slides and too much information crowded on a single slide, but it’s simplistic advice that may not address your actual concerns.

I use four guiding questions to think about presentation slides:

  1. How are you going to use them?

  2. How are your learners going to use them?

  3. What else are you going to provide?

  4. Have you addressed the issues? (Accessibility, Copyright, Confidentiality, etc.)

 

How are you going to use them?

For example, are you using your slides as “attention getters” or information notes? Do you need an eye-catching image, or clear bullet points, or both? Are your images essential illustration, or distracting add-ons? If you’re showing a complicated image, is it to show “it’s complicated” or is it for detailed discussion and deeper learning?

How are your learners going to use them?

Take a step back and think about how your slides look projected on the three screens in the teaching theatres. Are your slides overwhelming or illuminating? Are your learners going to take notes on their electronic copy of your slides while you talk? Will these be their primary reference? Are your slides “must use” or “nice to have”?

What else are you going to provide?

Do you provide an electronic copy of your slides, before or after class? Are they complete or are there things omitted in your MEdTech published versions (either for pedagogical or other reasons, see next point!). If you’re using more visual versus text sides, are you providing accompanying notes? Do the students have other resources?

Have you addressed the issues? (Accessibility, Copyright, Confidentiality, etc.)

Issues about accessibility, copyright and confidentiality will vary based on particular circumstances. The best rule for layout is “keep it simple” – many of the built-in templates in programs don’t translate well to the screen and can be impossible to read for some people with particular vision problems. There can be issues of copyright for images – some things can be shown in class, but not saved to our learning management systems, for example. (And we have a copyright specialist here at Queen’s – Mark Swartz – who can help us navigate this). Also, regarding confidentiality, if screenshots of x-rays are used, for example, how is identifying information removed?

 

There are a vast number of resources online and multiple great reference books with tips and techniques for improving your use of presentation software. There is no single school of thought of best practices for teaching with this tool (although there are definitely pitfalls to avoid).

If you’re looking to improve your use of PowerPoint in the classroom, please feel free to get in touch. We can look at what you’re doing now, what your goals are, and talk strategies for changing things up as needed.

Meanwhile, if you have 14 slides for a 20-minute presentation, you’re likely ok. But if you’re planning 200 slides for a 50-minute lecture, chances are, that’s too many. Call me.

Reach me at theresa.suart@queensu.ca